In recent decades Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have usually debated. Preparations are already under way for this year. But Joe Biden should put this tradition on hold and refuse to debate Donald Trump.
The first presidential debate was between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960. I watched it in the basement of Baxter Hall at Willamette University, where I was a senior.
Recently this debate was rebroadcast. I was impressed by how thoughtfully both candidates responded to questions posed by the moderators. Regrettably, I don't think recent debates have been as useful for Americans trying to decide how to vote.
Joe Biden is a competent, though not outstanding, debater. He more or less held his own in recent debates with Democratic rivals who were much more articulate. But one need not be an outstanding debater to command the support of voters, as Biden's primary victories demonstrate. Most voters, hopefully, understand that the best debaters don't necessarily make the best presidents.
Still, Biden should refuse to debate Mr. Trump. It is impossible to debate someone who is willing to make up facts on the spur of the moment. The findings of fact-checkers would not be available to Biden during a debate.
How could Biden respond when Donald Trump hits him with "facts" about situations about which the former vice president has no current information, perhaps because the alleged situations never existed? If Biden had to respond truthfully, and repeatedly, that he doesn't know anything about the claimed situations, it would give viewers the false impression that he is badly informed.
Of course Biden himself could make up facts on the spot in an effort to throw Trump off balance. But even though most successful politicians lie some of the time, it is unlikely that he is as skilled at it as Trump is. It wouldn't be unfair to try to outdo Trump in this department, but Biden would be unlikely to pull it off since he has not had as much practice.
Anyway, it wouldn't serve the voters to watch a debate in which the candidates tried to outdo each other in telling lies.
When asked why he decided not to debate, Biden should just state that there is obviously no use in debating with someone like Mr. Trump.
In early America, presidential candidates considered it beneath their dignity to campaign at all. They worked actively behind the scenes but didn't hold rallies or make campaign speeches. I don't imagine he will do this, but it would be interesting if Biden would revive this older approach, not just refusing to debate but choosing not to campaign at all.
Biden could announce that he wants to spend the time preparing to be an effective president if elected. This would fit well with continuing limits on public meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And he could point out that campaign oratory is notoriously superficial and filled with promises that cannot possibly be kept. He could note that all presidents must deal with unexpected developments, and that people would do better to base their votes on the candidates' general character, experience and temperament rather than on what they say they would like to do.
If Biden were to do this, it would be a blessing if Mr. Trump would emulate him. But the prudent won't bet any money on this possibility.
Although Biden's surrogates would campaign on his behalf, his own silence would guarantee that he would utter no nonsense before the election.
After Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976, columnist James Reston reassured worried readers that he was "clearly not going to swallow his own campaign baloney." Wouldn't it be refreshing if Biden were to let Mr. Trump have a monopoly on political baloney this year?
Paul F. deLespinasse of Corvallis is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. His most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. This column originally appeared in NewsMax.
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